Art students are fired up about using their new, non-toxic materials for a class project.
The school purchased a new kiln and enamels for the Advanced Placement Studio Art class. Using the Public Education Enrichment Fund allotted in Proposition H and Weighted Student Formula, the school purchased the $1,500 kiln and materials. Proposition H supports arts, music, sports and literary programs in district schools, while the Weighted Student Formula distributes money to schools based on the number of students’ academic and economic needs.
The new equipment replaced the school’s outdated and potentially dangerous older kiln and will be predominantly used for enameling, as the school has five ceramics kilns. “The small kiln that we had was overfiring and hard to control because it was over 40 years old,” art teacher Kirsten Janssen said. “It was hard to use because the kiln had no timer and you couldn’t tell how hot the kiln was. All the enamels were lead-based so we needed a non-toxic alternative with no lead or chemicals.” The new kiln may also be used for small ceramics pieces.
The old enamels and kiln were from the 1950s to 1960s, according to Janssen. “The brick inside the old kiln is porous and we don’t know what it was used for before,” she said. “It has an unknown historical background so every time you heat up the kiln, you may be releasing chemicals into the air.”
Students are relieved that they don’t have to use archaic art materials anymore. “Times are a-changin’,” AP Studio Art student senior Rachel Aranda said, smiling. “I’ve never had the opportunity to enamel something before but it’s good that we can make cool jewelry without dying slowly now.”
Janssen includes a three-week-long metalwork adornment project in the AP Studio Art’s class curriculum, showing her students examples like an enameled hair band. Working on this project, students incorporate an “overall umbrella of metalwork techniques,” including enameling, which transforms a dull piece of metal into a glossy, colorful art piece. The artist applies a liquid adhesive to the carefully cleaned piece of metal so the enamel, which consists of ground glass, can be sifted over it, according to Janssen. After the enamel dries, it is placed into the kiln at 1,450 degrees Fahrenheit. The enamel soon vitrifies, or “melts together, becoming one with the metal,” according to Janssen. “It creates a glass-like surface. After it cools down and is taken out of the oven, the metal turns into brilliant, bright colors.”
Janssen said she believes that enameling is a traditional and magical craft skill that all art students need to acquire. “Half of my AP class is more painting and drawing-orientated, and the other half is more ceramics-orientated,” she said. “The project is a nice mix for both groups. It’s the perfect material medium for the two to meet.”
Many student-created enamel pieces have been featured at the annual Young at Art Festival every May at the de Young Museum and entered in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, according to Janssen.
This article first appeared in the Dec. 10, 2010 issue of The Lowell.